How to get the Most out of Your GRAM Visit
Have you taken your kids to the GRAM yet?
Here in Grand Rapids, art is a big thing. But we don’t just mean ArtPrize! Our very own Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), located downtown by Rosa Parks Circle, houses some amazing works of art year-round for you and your family to enjoy.
With a stunningly beautiful interior, fascinating exhibits, kid-friendly details, numerous family programs for all ages, and exciting location in the heart of the city, the GRAM is the perfect place to introduce your little ones to the world of art!
But hold on–an art museum? You mean that very quiet, full-of-things-you-shouldn’t-touch place? If you’re like me, the thought of taking a two year old to an art museum sounds a bit like proposing to bring a bull into a china shop, as the saying goes. However, with a bit of preparation and some insider tips, your kids–under-5’s and all–can and will have a blast at the GRAM. In fact, it just might become your new go-to family outing in the city.
What to Know Before You Go to the GRAM
One of the best ways GRAM is family-friendly is that admission is completely FREE on Tuesdays (10:00 AM-5:00 PM) and Thursday evenings (5:00 pm-9:00 pm)! This means you can easily call it a day if your toddler starts having a meltdown mid-gallery, and you can also keep your trips as short and sweet as you’d like without feeling like you wasted money. I also love having both daytime and evening options–the daytime one is great for dates with my 2 year old, while the evening one works well for the whole family.
There are plenty of convenient, affordable parking options within a short walk from the GRAM, including metered parking spaces and garages. (Click here for a printable map that shows the different parking structures nearby.) When we went during the day, it was no problem finding a metered space right next to the museum. When we went in the evening, we parked at the garage on 99 Monroe.
Food & Drinks & Food Trucks
Because of the sensitive nature of the artwork, snacks and drinks (including water) are not permitted in the galleries.
When you and your kids are ready for a snack break, you can head to one of three areas: the spacious front lobby, where there are plenty of soft couches and low tables; outside on the large front patio facing Rosa Parks Circle (also a great area for kids to run around and burn off some energy); and in the hall in front of the Museum Store (turn left after the welcome desk), where you’ll find tables and chairs facing huge windows.
Want a special treat? Come to the museum on Thursdays in the summer and grab a bite from one of the food trucks parked outside at lunchtime.
If it’s not food truck day, there are still plenty of kid-friendly food options close by, that would make for a great pre- or post- museum outing with the kids. These include: Dog Pit, Subway, and Panera Bread, as well as Thai, Mexican, and Mediterranean restaurants.
Our kids really enjoyed finishing our trip to the museum with a frozen yogurt treat at Sweet Yo’s, located just across the street. Mad Cap Coffee is also right around the corner to the back, for parents who need a little pick-me-up!
The GRAM is stroller-friendly, with convenient, roomy elevators located throughout. I found this very useful for bringing along my 2 year old, who is at just the age where he wants to explore, but doesn’t understand why he can’t touch everything. Being able to strap him into the stroller when he got too rowdy was key!
You can also leave your stroller parked to the immediate left of the front entrance, near the coat racks and welcome desk.
Discovery Packs & Gallery Games
GRAM has put together some outstanding resources for parents and kids of all ages to help facilitate discussion and make the museum experience more meaningful. When you bring kids of any age to an art museum, it can be helpful to have some ideas on hand for helping them connect to the artwork.
- Purposeful Play + Artful Learning (ages 0-5): These themed activities and lesson plans are designed to increase fine and gross motor skills, stimulate learning through discovery and play, and help with communication. Visit the website to download lesson plans at home, or pick up a copy at the welcome desk.
- Gallery Games (ages 5+): Available at the welcome desk, this pack of activity cards has some fantastic ideas for helping kids more deeply engage with the artwork throughout the museum. Some ideas you’ll find inside are: I Spy, Telling a Story, Acting It Out, and Guess What.
A Floor-by-Floor Guide
GRAM has three floors of artwork, displayed in an airy, bright modern space.
I personally found GRAM to be wonderful for bringing along my kids because it wasn’t overwhelmingly huge in size–in fact, it is just the right size for a family to explore. The museum is totally walkable for little legs, all the bathrooms are within convenient proximity (and have step stools near the sinks!), there are ample benches and seats around for breaks, and every new corner has something unique and gaze-worthy displayed.
Read on to learn more about what’s offered on each floor!
First & Third Floors: GRAM Permanent Collection
On the first floor, our kids (ages 5 and 2) loved the playful Prints and Processes exhibit, which has since ended. Focusing on prints and organized by the processes that go into making them (such as woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and screen-prints), this exhibit includes works by well-known artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, William Blake, Mary Cassatt, and Andy Warhol.
Upon entering the exhibit, my daughter spotted a rack of adorable wood-handled magnifying glasses–an invitation for visitors to get an up-close look at the intricate details of the pieces. Her little brother joined in on the fun too. As they ran from piece to piece eagerly examining the prints, I heard exclamations of, “Thumbprints!” “Swirlies!” and “Look, Mama!”
As we made our way to the elevator to go up to the third floor, my daughter was in awe of the large paintings on the walls. It was the first time she had ever been in front of paintings so huge. Since they were easily three times her height, she looked like she was a part of the scene, and I could tell she felt like it, too. She smiled at a funny looking bird, and pointing at an expansive painting of the sky, said, “That’s my favorite one.”
The third floor was recently renovated and houses the majority of GRAM’s permanent pieces. You’ll find everything from medieval to contemporary paintings, as well as some amazing furniture pieces, sculptures, and other mediums–all of which fascinated my kids. When we visited, there were also several small school groups of young kids learning about the different artwork; a testament to GRAM’s devotion to inspiring the next generation of artists and art-lovers!
Second Floor: Temporary Exhibits
One of the best things about GRAM is that it is constantly changing. Each season, GRAM brings in new and exciting exhibits and artwork to Grand Rapids. The second floor is mostly devoted to these fascinating exhibits. A schedule of their current and upcoming exhibits can be found here.
When we stepped out of the elevator onto the second floor, we were pleasantly surprised by a children’s book nook near the entrance to the Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects exhibit (open through April 30). The kids immediately ran over to the chairs and sat for a while, perusing the different art-related books.
In the interest of time, we decided to check out only one of the two exhibits on the second floor: Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects. As a collection of collections, it was an instant hit with the kids–after all, what child isn’t a collector of some sort?
My daughter, who is a rock collector, headed straight for the geodes and gems. Then she wandered around, taking it all in: sneakers, vintage cut-out valentines, Star Wars figurines, pin-ball machines.
She could’ve spent a long time in this exhibit, and would have, except that we had to make an early exit because it was a bit too exciting for my son. He wanted to touch and play with everything (such as the color-sorted miniatures collection laid out on the floor) and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to ride the pedal cars that were on display!
Want More GRAM?
If you’re looking for some quality art programs for your kids, look no further than GRAM. For babies all the way through teens, there’s something for everyone!
Family Events & Programs
- Baby & Me Tour (April 25, 2017, 11AM-12PM): Moms, dads, caregivers, and grandparents are invited to a free, interactive tour and discussion inspired by the latest exhibitions and the permanent collection. This event is perfect for babies aged 0-18 months. To guarantee the tour runs and that your spot is reserved, please pre-register online or call Visitor Services at 616.831.1000.
- Little Member Morning (March 25, 2017, 12-1PM, members only): Inspired by the exhibit Art in Bloom, GRAM’s littlest members will get to explore the galleries, listen to a story, and spend time sketching in the galleries. Little Member Mornings are perfect for members ages 4 to 8, but all ages are welcome to join the fun. Space is limited, so please register online or call Visitor Services at 616.831.1000.
- Parent & Child Workshops: Held on Saturday mornings from 10AM to 12PM, parents and kids can make fun and functional works of art together, such as tattoo t-shirts and pop art picnic blankets!
- Saturday Drop-In Studios: Each Saturday from 1-4PM in GRAM studio, visitors of all ages can create their own masterpieces. Themes for March and April are “Cabinets of Curiosity,” where you can make small boxes to curate your own tiny collection, and “Upcycled Landscapes,” where you will create a mixed media landscape using upcycled materials.
Spring and Summer Break Programs
- Spring Break Drop-In Tours: During this free family-friendly tour (free for members or with admission), visitors of all ages will gain a deeper appreciation for the exhibits on display. Afterwards, bring the whole family downstairs to GRAM studio to create masterpieces of your own.
- Sooper Art Contest 2017: Through April 29, 2017, parents and teachers can submit their child or student’s artwork to GRAM. Winners will be announced in May. Click here for more info!
- Summer Art Camps: This popular summer camp, held in June and July, is for art-loving kids ages 4-17. Students will delve more deeply into the museum’s galleries and discover their own inner artist through hands-on activities and collaborative problem solving and creation. Choose from several themed camps, such as “Artful Discoveries and Adventures,” “Mixed Media Mania,” “Colorful Compositions,” and, just for teens, “Creative Cartoons.”
Have you been to the Grand Rapids Art Museum? Any tips to share? Please leave a comment below!
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